NRC Will Issue New Safety Orders that Implement Fukushima-Related Recommendations

On March 9, 2012, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced that it directed its staff to issue three Orders, which are effective immediately, to United States commercial reactor plants. According to the NRC, this expedited mandate attempts to implement “lessons learned from the accident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.”

Two of the Orders will apply to every U.S. commercial nuclear power plant, including those under construction and the recently licensed new Vogtle reactors. More specifically, the first Order requires the plants to better protect safety equipment installed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and to obtain sufficient equipment to support all reactors at a given site simultaneously.

The second Order requires the plants to install enhanced equipment for monitoring water levels in each plant’s spent fuel pool.

The third Order applies only to U.S. boiling-water reactors that have “Mark I” or “Mark II” containment structures. These reactors must improve venting systems (or for the Mark II plants, install new systems) that help prevent or mitigate core damage in the event of a serious accident. Plants have until December 31, 2016, to complete the modifications and the requirements of all three Orders.

The NRC will also issue a detailed information request to every operating U.S. commercial nuclear power plant, and certain parts will apply to reactors currently under construction or recently licensed. The request covers several topics, including:

  • Re-analyzing earthquake and flooding risks using the latest available information;
  • Conducting earthquake and flooding hazard “walkdowns,” where skilled engineers closely examine a plant’s ability to meet current requirements;
  • Assessing the ability of a plant’s current communications systems and equipment to perform under conditions of onsite and offsite damage and prolonged loss of all alternating current (ac) electrical power; and,
  • Assessing plant staffing levels needed to fill emergency positions in response to events simultaneously affecting all reactors at a given site.

Each section of the request includes schedules for plants to provide the relevant information to the NRC.